George Washington’s Rules of Civility
I read a wonderfully entertaining book, My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself” by A.J. Jacobs. Chapter 7 titled “What Would George Washington Do?” refers to living life as our first president did. The author refers to The Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation. These rules, written by Jesuit instructors, were hand-copied by a young George and he followed them to shape his life.
Some of the rules are etiquette and some address moral issues. I read through the list of rules and thought if we, as Americans, followed Washington’s rules we would all be better off and living in a kinder, more civilized country. If we followed his rules concerning eating and dining, we would be more likely to have a lower obesity rate.
The following are his rules concerning eating and dining. I have taken the liberty of rewriting them in a more modern form.
- While at the table do not spit, cough, or blow your nose unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Don’t make a big deal about how great your food tastes but don’t find fault with it either. Don’t lean on the table.
- Don’t use a greasy knife to cut bread to dip into the salt container.
- 94. If you soak any of your food in sauce, make sure the piece is no larger than one bite. Don’t blow on your soup to cool it down but let it cool by itself.
- Don’t put food in your mouth if you have a knife in your hand. Don’t spit out food at the table or throw anything under the table.
- Don’t bend over the plate to shovel food in your mouth. Keep your fingers clean and use a napkin.
- Don’t put another bit of food in your mouth until you have swallowed what is already in your mouth. Take small bites.
- Don’t talk or drink with a mouth full of food.
- Don’t clean your teeth with the tablecloth, napkin, fork, or knife. Use a toothpick.
- In the company of your betters, do not take longer to eat than they do. Don’t put your arms on the table.
- The head of the table, or the host, should unfold their napkin first and be the first one to eat.
- Don’t get angry at the table and if you do, keep it to yourself, especially if there is company present. Good humor makes a meal a feast.
- Be attentive when others talk at the table. When you talk be sure you don’t have a mouth full of food.
Today is George Washington’s birthday and while we all remember him cutting down the cherry tree and the “I cannot tell a lie” story, it is most likely a story meant to portray his character. What really shaped his character was the list of rules. If you would like to read (and practice) the rules in their entirety click here.
Vicki Bovee MS, RDN, LD
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